How to Begin Archiving Your Family History

For many of us the tallest hurdle to beginning a project is actually – beginning. It’s time to dig in! Tomorrow, next month, next year will remain in your future. If you’ve been wishing to preserve the precious stories and unique experiences of your family, begin now. Break what may seem like an overwhelming project down into small steps and just get started. There are four basic components to preserving your personal histories to share now and for generations to come.

TIME
… it’s the simplest thing for us to give, yet often the hardest to prioritize. Decide upon a regular time every week or two that you can invest a bit of focused time with the person(s) whose story you want to tell. If they live too far away for this to be feasible, consider making a series of phone dates. Or, plan on putting aside some time together at the next family holiday, wedding, reunion or other event when everyone tends to gather from afar. The key here is to prioritize the time, schedule it and make it happen.

ASK
For many folk it’s not easy to just start recalling random stories out of the hat. Be prepared with a list of questions that you can use as a guide for getting the conversation going and directing its path. It’s not necessary to start at the “beginning.” Approach your interviews with questions about anecdotes and story fragments that you’re interested in. Continue the process. Fill in the blank spaces as you go along.

LISTEN
… it’s the key that will unlock all the remembrances. Slow down your thoughts and focus on what the person your talking with is saying. Don’t interrupt. Take notes if you think of further questions that your have regarding their recollection. Let silences rest, give time for vignettes to form and vocalize.
Be patient.

RECORD
How you archive the stories depends on what you want your final product to be. If you would like to end up with a written manuscript, bring along an audio recorder, as well as a pen and notebook. If you’d like to create an audio recording of your family’s stories, consider investing in a higher quality audio recorder versus a voice recorder and pay close attention to selecting a noise-free space for your interviews. If you’d like to take your archiving to a production level and create a video that will preserve the nuances of gesture and subtleties of voice, set-up a camcorder in a favorably lit and quiet room.